CONVOY – With three starters sidelined due to injury or illness, Columbus Grove head coach Chris Sautter knew he needed some of his younger players to step up against Crestview Friday night.
That is exactly what happened as some of the Bulldogs more inexperienced players like juniors Trey Sautter and Brayden Bellman and freshman Bo Birnesser stepped up to the challenge to help carry Columbus Grove to a hard-fought 54-58 victory over Crestview in a key early Northwest Conference clash.
Columbus Grove improves to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. Crestview drops its first game of the year and falls to 3-1 and 0-1 in NWC action.
Birnesser finished with 12 points, Sautter scored seven points and hit two big 3-pointers in the second half and Bellman added six points, grabbed six boards and battled defensively inside all night.
“I am super proud of that group. With Tayt (Birnesser) being hurt. Gabe (Clement) being hurt and Jacksen (Schroeder) being sick, and to have three starters out I hope they learned from this game tonight and this will make us better once we do get everybody back and hopefully make a tournament run later in the year.
Senior Blake Reynolds produced another impressive performance on both ends of the court. Offensive the senior standout pumped in 21 points and became the all-time Columbus Grove leading with 1,899 points.
Defensively, Reynolds had the arduous task of covering Ohio State bound Kalen Etzler. The Crestview senior finished with 17 points but scored only three points in the crucial fourth quarter and that did not come until 11.6 seconds left in the game.
“Blake did a great job on Etzler,” Sautter said. “We made other guys take shots and I thought we did a pretty good job on the glass. I don’t know how many second shot points they got but we did a phenomenal job on the defensive end rebounding the basketball.”
But it definitely was not the Blake Reynolds’ show by no means as his supporting cast provided key buckets down the stretch as well as big stops on the defensive end.
Going into the final eight minutes, Columbus Grove, who trailed once early in the opening minutes of the game, held a 41-35 lead. A big trey from Trey Sautter and another bucket y Birnesser gave the Bulldogs a 10-point advantage with five minutes left in the game.
But as had been the case all game, Crestview came storming back and sliced the lead to 47-45 with 1:28 left in the contest. However, a Reynolds basket and some solid defense effort helped secure the win for Columbus Grove.
“I figured if we were going to win it was going to be close,” Sautter said. “I don’t know what we got up nine or 10 and that was big but we kind of went stale for a couple of minutes there and they got a couple of big buckets and forced some turnovers and I was curious to see how our young pups were going to respond. It wasn’t perfect but they competed through the mistakes and we made enough plays down the stretch to win.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.